Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Transperth SmartRider: A user review

The last part of this Transperth special will test the SmartRider smartcard ticketing. This is very relevant for Melbourne as we will be getting a similar system called Myki.

Comments here relate to standard (full-fare) SmartRiders; different arrangements apply to concession SmartRiders issued to students and seniors. These notes are my impressions gained from three days of travel throughout the Transperth network. Background information and a user guide can be found on the Transperth website SmartRider section.

Obtaining SmartRider

SmartRider can be got from a Transperth InfoCentre (these are located in Perth CBD or retail sales outlet. With 40 suburban outlets, the SmartRider sales network is smaller than the old Multirider network which comprised most delis and newsagents. SmartRiders last indefinitely so passengers would need to make only one special trip to obtain one.

The minimum outlay for a standard SmartRider is $20. This comprises the $10 card cost and a minimum $10 of travel credits. The $10 card cost isn't completely 'dead money' however since it allows you to go into negative balance.

Tagging on and tagging off

Passenger obligations are stated on the Transperth website. Very simply you tag on at the beginning of your trip and tag off at the end if you pass a SmartCard reader. There are some minor exceptions and variations, generally dealing with train/bus transfers and interchanges where both the station and bus interchange are in the same fare-paid area.

You can walk through somewhere like Perth Station if you have a SmartRider - if you don't linger for too long you will not be charged a fare. Previously Perth Station was 'open' and anyone could enter and leave without a ticket.

There are trips where you don't tag off at the distant location. An example might be travelling to a suburban interchange (such as Warwick) for transport study purposes. You don't leave the fare paid area so don't tag off there. 20 minutes later you return back to Perth and tag off there. In this case I was charged a $1.50 default fare on return and there is no way of the system knowing how far I went.

In one case I tagged on/off too many times when transferring from a bus to a train. The result was that the barriers at Perth wouldn't open on my exit. This was cured by an attendant (which are at all barriers) tagging on so I could tag off.

Boarding and alighting

Bus boarding is fairly quick assuming two queues at the door. The left queue is for people who need service from the driver (purchasing paper tickets, topping up, enquiries). The right queue provides fast entry for those who just need to scan a SmartRider.

I didn't test this, but given that people adding value also need to go over to the reader to tag on, this might slow boarding.

Passengers were generally used to tagging off. However it was not possible to assess how many didn't tag off but should have. A possible risk is that people who misplace their wallet during the trip (eg put it in their bag) may delay the bus while the driver waits for them to tag off.

Ticket inspections

I was asked for my ticket once when using SmartRider (towards the end of a night train trip to Fremantle). Transit officers carry small card readers that scan tickets. These operate quickly and are probably faster than visually checking paper tickets and then asking about zones or concession entitlements. Inspectors don't need to physically see a SmartRider and are quite willing to scan through wallets, etc.

Adding value

The biggest discounts (25%) apply if you choose to have your SmartRider automatically topped up ('autoloaded') from your bank account. Adding value manually is meant to give a 15% discount on most cash fares - we'll discuss this in detail later.

Fourteen locations (twelve stations and two bus terminals) have 'add-value' machines. Payment is by EFTPOS only at twelve of these locations, with Perth and Fremantle also having machines that take notes.

Compared to Melbourne (where nearly all of its 200+ stations have ticket vending machines that take coins, selected notes and EFTPOS) this is a very small network with limited payment options. The assumption appears to be that most passengers will opt for autoload, internet/telephone payment or add value elsewhere.

Perth's less extensive rail system and generally better bus/train co-ordination means that a higher proportion of Perth train passengers arrive at the station by bus than in Melbourne. This and the limited station facilities makes the ability to add value on buses very important.

Bus drivers accept notes for the purpose of adding value and will add the full value of the note presented (ie no change given). This was my preferred method of adding value. It worked well.

The passenger puts their card on the driver's ticket machine and gives the driver a note. The card is then topped up and the driver gives the passenger a receipt (which is not a ticket).

The trap in this is that unlike buying a ticket on a Melbourne tram (which is pre-validated) topping up on a bus does not also tag on for you. Hence after topping-up you must still tag on. Failure to do so may result in you being charged a higher default (penalty) fare.

No use was made of adding value by telephone or internet. However having to register with BPay appears to be an unnecessary complication and makes use less convenient than dealing directly, as Metlink does with its phone and internet Metcard sales. The other disadvantage of BPay is that payment is not immediate and may take up to five working days to come through.

Registering SmartRider

Passengers buying Standard SmartRiders can elect to register their card. The benefits of this are twofold; (i) if you lose your card you can prevent others from using it and (ii) review your travel and fares charged online (more later).

Registering can be done online, by phone or by filling out a form and dropping it into a SmartRider outlet. This form requires your name, home address and a SmartRider password. The password is limited to a few choices such as your town of birth or a favourite colour, presumably so that you can be prompted if you forget it.

I lodged a paper registration form last Saturday but in hindsight this wasn't necessary as I registered online yesterday.

Viewing your travel patterns on the web

A major attraction of SmartRider is being able to view your travel patterns (and fares charged) on the web. To take advantage of this feature you need to:

* Register your SmartRider
* Register with TravelEasy on the Transperth website

Registering SmartRider has been discussed previously. Registering for TravelEasy requires you to provide a user name and password. There is a warning that the TravelEasy password is different to your SmartRider password but I used the same password for both with no ill effects.

Needing two passwords is a burden that contributes to user attrition and disengagement (especially if users are returning to a service after not using it for a while). It would be desirable if Transperth was able to combine these passwords and have only one for all its relationships with a customer.

A quirk was the address information required when registering for TravelEasy.

Strangely they only want your street name, not your house number and street name. This information requested is incomplete so they aren't going to need it to write to you; maybe it's a form of cross-checking against your full address provided when you registered for SmartRider.

When it comes to entering your suburb you can choose from a drop-down menu. This lists all Perth suburbs with an 'other' at the top of the list. This is good in that they made provision for country and interstate passengers. However selecting 'other' does not provide a space to type in your suburb, so again it can't be that important.

The first thing I tried was to enter my (Melbourne) street in the street field and selected 'other' in the suburb list. This didn't work and I couldn't register. I then exited and tried my (Melbourne) street in a Perth suburb (I picked Alexander Heights - the first on the list). Despite the fictional address it worked and I could successfully view my SmartRider records.

As a user-interface this is very buggy and raises more questions than answers. Why request only partial information such as addresses missing house numbers? Why allow an 'other' selection but neither provide a window to enter the data? Why allow an 'other' selection but not allow it to work? Why force the user to enter wrong data to make it work?

However once these foibles have been got around the SmartRider travel record display was very good and one can print or save the data.

Travel data

Shown below is a data extract for travel on September 3, 2007.

To make it clearer, the trips made were as follows:

* Victoria Park - Perth
* Perth - Rockingham
* Rockingham - Safety Bay (actually the same bus as the above but tagged off and on anyway)
* Safety Bay - Rockingham
* Rockingham - Rockingham Beach
* Rockingham - Fremantle
* Fremantle - McIver
* McIver - Carlisle
* East Victoria Park - Victoria Park

The formatting you'll see below isn't as good as on the Transperth website. The salient details are date, time, route number, location, zones and remaining balance. Data is presented in reverse order.

Sep 3 2007 5:49PM 000026 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value BUS 177T 1 11730 ALBANY b Mcmillan 0 NORMAL Stored Value 6.83

Sep 3 2007 5:47PM 000025 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER BUS 177T 1 11727 ALBANY b Kent 6.83

Sep 3 2007 5:47PM 000024 Synthetic TAG OFF - Stored Value BUS 177T 1 11727 ALBANY b Kent 0 DEFAULT Stored Value 6.83

Sep 3 2007 5:00PM 000023 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER RAIL 1 2782 Carlisle 6.83

Sep 3 2007 4:45PM 000022 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value RAIL 0 2777 McIver 0 NORMAL Stored Value 6.83

Sep 3 2007 4:44PM 000021 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER RAIL 0 2777 McIver 6.83

Sep 3 2007 4:44PM 000020 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value RAIL 0 2777 McIver -1.53 NORMAL Stored Value 6.83

Sep 3 2007 4:11PM 000019 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER RAIL 2 2773 Fremantle 8.36

Sep 3 2007 4:08PM 000018 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value BUS 126T 3 10431 FREMANTLE S4 -3.57 NORMAL Stored Value 8.36

Sep 3 2007 3:25PM 000017 Normal TAG ON INITIAL BUS 126T 5 16788 ROCKINGHAM S6 11.93

Sep 3 2007 12:18PM 000016 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value BUS 113F 6 17217 KENT b Patterson 0 NORMAL Stored Value 11.93

Sep 3 2007 12:03PM 000015 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER BUS 113F 6 16784 ROCKINGHAM S2 11.93

Sep 3 2007 11:24AM 000014 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value BUS 117T 6 16792 ROCKINGHAM S10 -2.20 DEFAULT Stored Value 11.93

Sep 3 2007 11:24AM 000013 Synthetic TAG ON INITIAL BUS 117T 6 21406 GR OCN a Tryall 14.13

Sep 3 2007 11:14AM 000012 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value BUS 117T 6 17346 SFTY BY b Vista 0 NORMAL Stored Value 14.13

Sep 3 2007 10:41AM 000011 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER BUS 117F 6 21358 CHARTH a Coral 14.13

Sep 3 2007 10:33AM 000010 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value BUS 117F 6 16792 ROCKINGHAM S10 -4.00 NORMAL Stored Value 14.13

Sep 3 2007 9:46AM 000009 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER BUS 866F 1 12228 BUSPORT A7 18.13

Sep 3 2007 8:55AM 000008 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value RAIL 0 2776 Perth 0 NORMAL Stored Value 18.13

Sep 3 2007 8:51AM 000007 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER RAIL 0 2776 Perth 18.13

Sep 3 2007 8:50AM 000006 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value RAIL 0 2776 Perth 0 NORMAL Stored Value 18.13

Sep 3 2007 8:49AM 000005 Normal TAG ON TRANSFER RAIL 0 2776 Perth 18.13

Sep 3 2007 8:38AM 000004 Normal TAG OFF - Stored Value BUS 211T 0 10087 ST GEORGES SM -1.87 NORMAL Stored Value 18.13

Sep 3 2007 8:20AM 000003 Normal TAG ON INITIAL BUS 211T 1 10067 SHEPPER a Axon 20.00

Fare calculation

"SmartRider is designed to always calculate the lowest fare applicable" Transperth SmartRider Guide, page 21.

The day started with $20.00 balance and ended with $6.83 balance, or a SmartRider fare of $13.17.

This compares with a cash fare of only $10.30. I calculate this on the basis of a $2.20 zone 1 ticket for the pre-9am travel then an $8.10 daily for the rest of the day.

My estimation is that the cap should have been reached during the Perth - Fremantle trip. This trip should have attracted a lower charge, with subsequent trips charged at $0.00.

Had everything worked properly, the correct total SmartRider fare would have been only $9.97. This is calculated by adding the daily fare of $8.10 to the pre-9am $1.87 fare (see Transperth fare table). This is a difference of more than 30% on the actual fare charged and leads one to doubt to quote above.

The proof of the pudding: Does SmartRider guarantee the best fare?

The short answer, based on my brief experience, is no!

While SmartRider may be acceptable for people making two regular trips a day, complex travel can confuse the operation of the fare cap. And the amounts concerned are not trivial, with the difference over 30% in the example above.

Passengers travelling a lot in a day are safer buying an $8.10 cash daily so there can be no chance of overcharging. This is even if they start before 9am and need to purchase an extra ticket for any early trips.

More testing will need to be done to confirm whether this is a one-off or a regular ocurrence with SmartRider; usage on the other two days approached but did not exceed the daily fare cap so was not a fair test.


Tyler said...

I've been using smartrider for quite some time now and experienced no trouble other than the fare gates not opening even when I tagged off correctly.

At first, I was sceptical about smartrider, for example I always ensured I was charged the correct fare but my trust in the system grew fast. I can make either short or day trips and I'am always charged correctly.

With regards to the Bpay taking 5 working days, well I use autoload and this takes 2-3 working days to be processed. This doesn't mean I can't use it for that time. All it means is that the actual money isn't withdrawn from my bank account for 2-3 days.

With regards to your particular journey and incorrect fare, well it seems you have been charged 2 default fares. One for not tagging off at Carlisle station and the other tagging on and off different buses in Rockingham. This is why you have been charged $13.17 opposed to the correct fare of $9.97.

It seems that you thought you were tagging on when in fact you were tagging off. For example, the last time you presented your card on the processor at Mclver, you tagged off then tagged on at Carlisle when in fact it was suppose to be the opposite.

I can see why you weren't happy with your experience but it seems the system has charged you according to the rules of the fares. It also seems that on this day you gave your smartrider a good run to see if it would get confused but from what I can see, it didn't.

Also, the $1.50 fare for Perth - Warwick and return is interesting. Although this is a cheaper way, I'am sure if you did it too much they would put a stop to it.

A few people call it dumbrider but I think it's alot smarter then boring, slow and annoying cash fares.


Peter Parker said...

Thanks for the answer and explanation Tyler. And the journey did have other purposes apart from trying to trip SmartRider!

In relation to the two non-tagging offs mentioned:

1. Carlisle. This shows a tag-on at 5pm, when it was a tag-off.

However this was near the end of a long day's travel. Whatever tagging on/tagging off activity should not have made any difference since the maximum fare ap would have been reached several trips before.

A genuinely smart system would have said 'no more' once the daily cap had been reached. It could still have recorded tags on and off but not done any calculations (ie all additions $0.00).

2. Rockingham was complicated! The bus taken (866) terminates at Rockingham. At 10:33am I tagged off and alighted. This should have read tagged off 866, but by that time the driver must have changed the number to 117 (which was the bus I wanted to get anyway, so I re-boarded and tagged on).

This tag on (which would have been within 20 seconds of the tag off) is not shown in the record. Hence the 10:41 event (which was alighting in Charthouse St) was counted as a boarding.

The overall point is that

(i) more than average diligence was taken to tag on and off (24/25 times is 96%) and

(ii) the amount and distance of travel leaves one in no doubt that an $8.10 cap (plus earlier travel) was reached yet the system kept charging higher.

If you're right, the conclusion is that SmartRider's lowest fare guarantee is very fragile and conditional on a 100% tagon/tagoff record). If it depart from this only slightly (eg a 96% compliance) users open themselves up to being charged more than paper tickets.

If one accepts that one is imperfect and tries to compensate it is fair to conclude that for complex travel over a day paper tickets are the best way to minimise financial risk. The incentive to buy such tickets is strengthened as the 15 & 25% SmartRider discounts would only apply to the component of travel taken before 9am on weekdays.

However I'd still recommend SmartRider the regular 2-trip a day commuter (i) due to the saving involved and (ii) with relatively fixed habits the risk of failure to tag (and thus extra charges) is lowered.

A few words about Melbourne and Perth

I can see how SmartRider can be seen as a big advance given how clunky anything other than the standard 2 trips a day was in Perth and the absence of pre-purchased periodicals.

Whereas here we have genunine all day tickets (ie with <9am travel) for the cost of 2 x 2hr fares. Like weekly and monthly tickets these can be bought in advance. Also our equivalent of your 10 trip multiriders only go up to two punches in a day, making them a daily ticket with free travel for the rest of the day.

Apart from highish fares near and across the zone boundary (as we only have 2 zones) Melbourne's fare and ticketing system is very 'unclunky' with a good range of periodical tickets available.

Given that Melbourne is starting from a better base (regards fares systems and available tickets) but the authorities have form in delivering two successive less than ideal ticketing systems, I think the expectations here will be higher.

Furthermore, some claim a strong culture of non-compliance and non-validation of tickets in Melbourne. Myki's biggest challenge will be to get people to validate not once but twice on buses, trams and when coming home on the train.

The circumstances of Metcard was that it was conceived during a highly charged industrial climate. Certain poor decisions (eg strict seperation of staff and AT equipment) were made for ideological reasons and compromised usability, reliability and customer service.

The politico-economic climate is somewhat less adversarial now and a potential major benefit of myki is if it has learned from Metcard's (and maybe even SmartRider's) limitations.

Getting back to fare caps, if our maximum all zone metro daily fare is $9.90, myki should never cap at more than that assuming the card has only been used for suburban travel (myki will also do country trips).

However if the cap is either missing or is at a level higher than paper tickets, then this will make smartcards risky, even for the passenger of more than average diligence. My understanding so far is that myki will be better than SmartRider in this regard.

Anonymous said...

"A few people call it dumbrider but I think it's alot smarter then boring, slow and annoying cash fares."

But cash is cheaper if you're travelling in a small group (2 adults, 5 children) at weekends/public holidays/school holidays after am peak/after pm peak - it's called FamilyRider. I personally will never use SmartRider - if they phase out cash tickets, I'll phase out taking public transport.

small business web design said...

At first, I was sceptical about smartrider, for example I always ensured I was charged the correct fare but my trust in the system grew fast. I can make either short or day trips and I'am always charged correctly.